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33 - Form

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2019

Alex Drace-Francis
Affiliation:
University of Amsterdam.
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Summary

Form, deriving from Latin forma, has been in common use for centuries in all Romance and Germanic languages, as well as in many other tongues; the first English attestation is from c.1225. Roughly equivalent to ‘shape’, it can denote something's external outline, but also its essential quality or character. In literary studies, it usually refers to certain consecrated configurations – structures, patterns, sequences or styles of writing – within a given genre.

These forms imply a set of ‘norms’, or rules of literary composition in a work, conformity to which would confer respectability and success. However, genres and forms are not ‘naturally occurring’ but are ‘historically perceived’ and ‘institutionally codified’ (Todorov 1990 [1978]; Chirico 2008). More recently, the emphasis on defining genres in a normative way has largely been replaced by an understanding of the infinite diversity of forms in which cultural representations may occur. Forms can also be understood not just in terms of an author's intentions or the tastes of the period, but also in terms of how they are received (Kohanski 1996). ‘Form’ has usually been distinguished from ‘format’, the latter referring to the physical arrangement, shape or size of a publication, and the materials used, rather than the internal structure. However, scholars increasingly recognize a reciprocal relationship between physical and material conditions of production and literary form.

Travel can be recorded or represented by any number of signs in a vast array of media. Photographs, paintings, drawings, films, sound and other recording formats can bear witness to human movement; so can documents like passports, tickets and passenger records, or even traces like footprints or smells. But while the impulse to register travel experience is an age-old one, and traces of journeys can be found across almost all genres of material artefact, travel writing's history as a literary genre has not always been distinct. Most critics tackling the problem agree that travel writing partakes of a hybrid quality: it has been called ‘a broad and ever-shifting genre’ (Hulme and Youngs 2002, 10) which ‘does not seem to belong to any genre in particular’ (Borm 2004, 14). Accounts of travel can be embedded in works of history, autobiography or memoir (a quality emphasized by Fussell (1980, 203)), as well as in material artefacts.

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Chapter
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Keywords for Travel Writing Studies
A Critical Glossary
, pp. 96 - 98
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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